Students at Motlow State Community College are getting credit for what they already know and graduating faster. Prior-learning assessments (PLAs) award college credit, certification, or advanced standing for non-academic experiences and training. Motlow State students who participate in PLA testing can use these credits as a fast track to graduation.
PLAs evaluate the knowledge a student has gained in high school, careers, training programs, military service, independent study, or even community service.
"Motlow wants you to graduate, and we do whatever we can to get you there. There is no reason to sit through a class if you can demonstrate existing competency with the material," said Walter McCord, head of PLA and a Cyber Defense instructor at Motlow. "Since January of this year, approximately 10-15 students have taken advantage of PLA credit. It is an excellent money-saving tool that could benefit many more Motlow students."
Most colleges categorize students age 25 and older as nontraditional students. This demographic is most likely to benefit from PLA credits; however, high school students can also earn credit in accelerated courses. High school students could be eligible for prior learning credit if they have completed Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school, pass College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams before college, or pass Challenge exams.
"Through PLA, I was able to get 18 credit hours at Motlow in recognition of certifications I previously obtained while serving," said Josh Scott, Motlow student and former systems administration technologist for the U.S. Navy. "Ultimately, this will help me get my degree and get a job faster."
Motlow makes PLA decisions based on each student’s demonstrated competencies. Students may be granted advanced credit for courses in areas for which they have demonstrated satisfactory achievement and proficiency. For graduation purposes, the maximum amount of PLA awarded from all sources is 30 credit hours unless otherwise modified by State legislative mandates or policy changes required by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission or the Tennessee Board of Regents.
These assessments come in multiple formats:
• Advanced Placement Examination Program
• Advanced Standing Credit in English
• Armed Services Credit
• Cambridge International Examinations
• Certified Administrative Professional Rating
• Challenge Examination Program
• College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
• Correspondence Courses
• Dual Credit Program (Credit by Assessment)
• International Baccalaureate Program
• LPN Licensure
• Paramedic Licensure
• Portfolio Assessment
• TCAT Articulation Agreements
Students can take a CLEP exam, demonstrate knowledge from working in the industry, or submit certifications for PLA review. CLEP exams are multiple-choice assessments that let students test out of introductory courses and move to more advanced classes sooner, saving time and money toward a degree. CLEP exams can be completed at an official CLEP test center or virtually with remote proctoring.
"College-level knowledge may be acquired through work experience or employer-sponsored training programs. It can also be acquired through military training or military occupation experience," explained McCord. "Knowledge acquired through these learning experiences may be equivalent to college-level knowledge and skills and therefore warrant academic credit."
Motlow believes more students should explore the benefits of PLA.
Having documented prior experience is the not only way to get credit. Motlow student Janesia Harlston completed some Google IT Support certifications and received credit for two classes.
"Taking the Google and Motlow courses concurrently helped me a lot with the class I was currently in," she said. She plans to graduate next Fall with double associate degrees, one in cyber security and one in criminal justice.
Another option for students to get credit for what they already know is taking a challenge exam. The most underutilized form of PLA at Motlow, challenge exams can be requested for multiple subjects and only cost $25 per exam.
"These are great tools for students who may only need one class to graduate, especially if it isn't offered during the current semester," said McCord.
If a student fails a challenge exam, it does not impact their GPA. If a CLEP exam exists for the course, Motlow students can take that exam instead of the Challenge exam. Students achieving work-related competencies equivalent to college course content, previous instruction, or other methods may receive credit for selected courses. This is designated by the department head in conjunction with the faculty member administering the challenge examination.
Students who are Veterans and who have received an honorable discharge after serving active duty with the armed forces may request credit by submitting a valid DD 214 form. Veterans will receive one credit for every six months of active duty. These credits meet the physical education activity requirements for all programs of study. In evaluating other armed services credit, Motlow uses the Guide to the Evaluation of Education Experience in the Armed Services published by the American Council on Education (ACE).
"I am grateful for Motlow's Veterans Affairs Coordinator, Michael Neal. He understands how to translate skills from military occupational specialties into the education realm. Other colleges I looked into before Motlow were not able to do that," said Scott. "He was able to go through my military transcripts, verify my certifications and get the credit applied.
PLAs save degree seekers a considerable amount of time and money and help improve enrollment and graduation rates. Research from the Council for Adults and Experiential Learning (CAEL) shows that among adult students, graduation rates are two and a half times higher for students with PLA credit. The study also found that PLA students of all ages complete higher-level degrees faster than non-PLA students.
Students interested in obtaining PLA credit will need to complete the "Request for Prior Learning Form" located in the MotlowHub, and send it to either the chair of the department for the subject matter for which credit is sought or to Walter McCord.